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Today I celebrate five years of sobriety. Yep, this day, in 2010, was the first full day I had without any alcohol and I haven’t had a drink since.
Since it is a pretty big milestone, I thought I would share what they call in AA my drinking story. By recognising and looking back on our drinking story we get to understand how we became alcoholics and the lessons we need to learn to remain sober. It also helps, if you are feeling you might be an alcoholic, to read others’ stories and to perhaps identify and know you are not alone.
It’s a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea!
I first became drunk when I was 14 years old. My friend and I were going to a house party (really common in the 1980s) and we decided that we wanted to get drunk. We took plastic drink bottles – the kind that came with lunch boxes – and filled them with a swig of every bottle of booze her dad had in his cabinet. We then drank these bottles of booze pretty much neat. It didn’t take long for the effects to take place. I don’t remember much about that party but I do remember not feeling like I didn’t fit in. Suddenly, I was the life and soul of the party and everything seemed to just flow. I didn’t care what people thought. I had courage to ask guys to dance. I seemed to find friends that I struggled so hard to make. I felt, quite literally, queen of the mountain.
I do remember my mom coming to collect us and us staggering to the car and me spinning a yarn of how tired we were which is why we had to be half carried to the car. My mom, bless her, clearly didn’t want to face the truth that her 14 year old daughter had got blind drunk and so she accepted my lie.
From then on, I got drunk a lot. I even took alcohol to school, as did most of my friends, though (as if this makes it okay), we would only drink after school before and after sport. At parties, it was a free for all.
It is pretty much at this time that my emotional maturity pretty much ended.
My dad was also an alcoholic at the time. Our family was dysfunctional, chaotic and a never ending moving platform. Instability reigned. Alcohol took away that pain, that uncertainty, that early feeling that I wasn’t good enough. It helped me cope with a family life that wasn’t coping with itself.
Two years after I began drinking, my dad stopped drinking (he has now been sober for 32 years). He began Alcoholics Anonymous and our lives radically changed. He moved us 600 kilometres away to a new life, a new start. It was the best thing he could have ever done for us, but at the time I was resentful. I was fast becoming really angry at the world.
I was onto my 6th school and I did not settle well. It was an all girls school and I really struggled to fit in. I had a boyfriend that I had left behind and I missed him terribly. The school was small and everyone seemed so well settled. I arrived in Year 11. Friendships had been formed and I was, as always, the outsider.
At parties, I would drink. None of my new friends at school really drank alcohol so I would hide it. A bit before the party, a controlled amount during the party and a lot afterwards. It gave me courage, strength to fit in.
My school work declined and I got a poor pass – far less than my academic potential suggested. I just made it into university.
At university alcohol freely flowed. Party after party ensued. Uni work never got done, but I got more and more drunk. I dropped out of university. A long history of incomplete tertiary courses would follow. I didn’t want to study, I wanted to party, to not feel, to be happy.
I married my long term boyfriend and we had Miss J. I had no education and this feeling of not achieving anything would remain with me, forever ingrained into my psyche. I would constantly feel like I had not realised my own potential. I would constantly be searching for my “thing”, that thing that would help me identify myself, know who I am. Because alcoholics lose themselves to alcohol, they no longer have any sense of identity other than that at the bottom of a bottle of booze. Drinking is easier, it numbs the pain. It certainly would turn me into a jolly person who appeared to love life.
I had my daughter and somehow I managed to curb my drinking. I did not drink at all whilst I was pregnant with her and for a while after her birth I would only drink a little bit at parties on the weekend. It seemed that my drinking problem had resolved itself. I could control it. HA!
My first husband died in scuba diving accident. I was 25 years old and my daughter was 16 months. My parents swooped in, invited me to come back home where they could help me grieve and look after Miss J. It was the opening I needed. At night, once Miss J was asleep, I would go out on my own to the local pub. My poor mother was mortified at this. She would say to me that it didn’t look good that a woman go out on her own and that I should be at home with them where they could take care of me. I couldn’t drink with them though. My dad was by now at least 10 years sober and whilst he was really good about us drinking in front of him, I didn’t want to. I wanted to soothe my pain good and proper.
And so off to the pub I would go. When I look back on those days I am amazed I did not get myself into any strife. I put myself into some ridiculously precarious positions and how I came out unscathed is a total mystery. All I can do is thank the universe for watching over me.
I met my second husband and we partied like crazy. We were in love and within 6 months we were married. He got posted to a different town and so I moved away from my family. Weirdly our drinking seemed to take a backseat as we set up home, got used to our new life together. 18 months later we moved to the UK. And my drinking took off again. An off-licence was opposite the house, so getting a bottle of wine a night was nothing unusual.
I was what you would call a functioning alcoholic. Every night I would drink, get drunk. I would pride myself on not starting to drink until the children had been put to bed. This seemed to make it okay. I would go to bed drunk and would wake up hungover, but I always managed to drag myself out of bed, get the children ready and take them to school. This way, I could tell myself I didn’t have a drinking problem. I could handle it, I was in control.
Except I wasn’t.
There were tell tale signs – I would forget things they had to do, I would be too tired to do their homework with them, I would yell a lot. I couldn’t keep on top of the housework and would resent it if friends just dropped by.
I handed over more and more power to that elixer called alcohol, all the while telling myself I didn’t have a problem
We moved to Australia in 2006. By this time we had a son, Master J. We had no idea at the time he had autism. Going out became almost impossible because of his sensory issues and so I would tell myself that drinking at home was my down time, my me time, my gift for the difficult life the universe had handed me. I was totally isolated from my family who lived in the UK and South Africa. I felt alone, so very alone.
I was angry and in pain and I had no way of dealing with it. And so I drank even more.
I justified this drinking by having even more parties. I went from one bottle to two or three bottles of wine a night. On the weekends, I bypassed the bottles and drank casks. By this time I didn’t care for quality. It was the quantity that mattered.
My parental judgement became impaired. We gave Miss J far more freedom than we should have. We allowed her to drink “only a couple” of drinks at the age of 16. Of course, we suspected the two bacardi breezers we gave her would blow out to much more, but we lied to ourselves. How I cringe at that decision now.
I eventually became housebound at night because I would not drink and drive. I was a self righteous alcoholic, judging those who did drink and drive. I was a good person, I would tell myself, responsible even. I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t drink and drive. My husband and I would argue because I refused to drive and so he would be left sober whilst I had a whale of a time when we would go out. Alcohol had finally got its hooks into me and my life had become a slave to it.
Each weekend would come and go and Monday mornings would see me groan with regret. I started asking questions of how had I allowed my life to get like this. But that is the disease of alcoholism. It is insidious, progressive and before you know it, you are a slave to it and your life is in tatters.
The turning point came in 2010. I went to visit an acquaintance. We weren’t close and she was forthright. To be honest I was a bit intimidated by her. I mentioned how one of our friends had got drunk at our house, again, how he had made a fool of himself and how he just drank too much.
My friend stared at me.
“You do know you drink too much, right?”
I looked at her, in disbelief.
“Are you saying, do you think, I mean are you suggesting I am an alcoholic?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. You need help.”
I left shortly afterwards. I hated her in that moment, for her rudeness, for her ability to speak the truth.
As I lay in my husband’s arms, a wreck, sobbing, I knew I could no longer deny what I had known for years. I was an alcoholic. I told my husband I needed to go to AA.
The following day, Monday the 31st January 2010, I walked into my first AA meeting.
It was the scariest thing I have ever had to do. Far scarier than posting bald pictures of myself.
That was the day that I admitted I was powerless over alcohol, that I took back control over my life, that I started to grow up.
I found fellowship and friendship.
I won’t lie. It hasn’t been easy. Depression has become a big part of my sobriety journey. Because I have to learn to live with the pain of living. And life can be pretty darn painful sometimes.
There are days I miss alcohol. If I didn’t I would not be an alcoholic. Sometimes it acts like a mistress calling to me, with her promise of the numbness she brings. But I resist. One day at a time I resist.
And my life is so much richer for it. My relationships are so much better. My children can count on me. Through my example neither of them drink. I am growing as a person every day. I am maturing. I am finding my way in a world that once would chew me up and spit me out. I now have strength to face her wrath and to withstand her challenges. I am living life on life’s terms one day at a time.
Today I celebrate 5 years of sobriety. A proud moment in my life. A moment worth celebrating.
Thank you for reading my story. If you are in need of help with your drinking, please contact AA. Someone there will be able to help you. It is a hard but brave step and I promise you it is worth it. One day at a time, you can do this.
Next time I will talk about how I managed to stay sober for five years and the challenges I had to overcome.
The room smelled stale. The sheets were not clean. The pink floral wall paper and king size bed did nothing to soothe him. His muscles twitched with agitation. He looked down at her, he smiled. Her big blue eyes stared up at him and she smiled too. He loved them like this. Willing to hand over their body, unwittingly handing over their soul. A single drop of blood fell from his mouth onto her cheek. She winced. “I think your nose is bleeding.” He continued to smile. He arched back and with a swift movement plunged into her neck. He gulped, drinking her in. As her viscous fluid – beautiful, sweet, plentiful – slipped down his throat, as he felt the diminishing thump of her beating heart, her body convulsing on the soft bed, it occurred to him that she did not scream. He paused. He looked at her. She appeared calm. No matter. He felt strong. He felt good. He felt vindicated. In moments, she lay lifeless before him. He stared down at her, cold eyes staring back at him. Immortality. The very definition of the circle of life. And yet, in that moment, the hunter had just become the hunted.
I decided this week that it was time to stop talking and to start doing. After a week crippled by depression, I needed to have something on which to focus. And so I decided to enrol on the Australian Writer’s Centre Creative Writing Stage 1 course. We have just completed week 1.
My nerves, frankly, are shattered.
As writers, there is such a vulnerability about our work. And that is scary. Poo-in-your-pants scary.
Firstly, we had to introduce ourselves. As I read each introduction, I wondered what the hell I was doing thinking I could be a writer. Everyone seemed to have much more experience at living than I did. I mean, I barely leave the house.
But then, a strange thing happened.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been doing Morning Pages. A strategy suggested by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. The idea is that every morning, before you do anything else, you write three pages. Three pages of stream of consciousness writing. Every morning. And you will find your creative spark.
I’ve managed to keep at it for about 10 days now.
During the week, motivated by my spurt of bravery for signing up for the Creative Writing course, I thought I might sign up for a degree in Creative Writing. (It is true, I tend to get over enthusiastic and ahead of myself). Reading through the units to be studied, I noticed that there was a unit called Horror Writing. I flinched. I do not like horror. I do not like blood and gore and suspense. My family tease me when I watch a thriller from under a blanket, peeking through a hole with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears. I am not joking.
But then I also read that sometimes that which we revolt against is the very thing we need to lean into, to savour, to sit with it, to overcome it.
And so I leaned in. I wrote a paragraph about a vampire in my morning pages (amongst other depressive stuff you seriously do not want to know about). It was stream of consciousness, no story line in mind, just writing.
Our assignment this week was to write a scene that left the reader feeling like the character’s life was about to change forever.
Easy, I thought. I can do that.
But the main character couldn’t be anything like us. It had to be someone totally NOT like us.
This was a problem. I am a depressive recovering alcoholic who writes about her experiences on her blog. By my very afflictions, I am a narcissist! All my characters and stories in my head are a derivative of me!
And so I looked at my Vampire and thought perhaps I could so something with him. And as I was writing, a pretty amazing thing happened. I started to think about extending the story. I started to think “What if?”
And before I knew it, I wasn’t focussed on my misery, my angst and trying to translate that into a character whose miserable story would become a derivative of my own life. No, instead I was developing a story of fantasy and wonder and amalgamating a gazillion different life forms and eras into one messy, but gloriously delicious story. Suddenly, rather than seemingly arduous, this writing journey took on new meaning, new zest, new life.
I’m not saying for a second that I am going to write a vampire novel, or become a gothic horror author. I mean, I might, if I can get some meat out of it. And if I can face my fear of gore. And if I can find my copy of Dracula, because apparently you have to at least have read that one to know something of the genre! And if I can go the distance. It takes on average two years to get a novel published for new writer, did you know that? That is from the conception of the story, to the published product. Two years! If nothing else, writers have to have faith and perseverance.
And so, here I am, finally starting this new journey. And that is what it is – a journey. An unknown journey. And who knows where it might end. It may be a short trip, or it may be a long one with a happy, serendipitous outcome.
But that is one of the joys of living, the unknowing. Actually, I don’t normally like that, but in this instance, I am liking it very much.
It just goes to show. Sometimes, you just have to take a leap. A leap of faith, a leap of vulnerability, and just give it a go. Go on, you know you want to. And I will be here right beside you.
PS: Please do give the AWC a go if you are thinking about becoming a writer (unsponsored plug there), they are fantastic!!
PPS: If you do buy The Artist’s Way, I do receive a tiny commission.
It is with some trepidation that I write about my long term relationship with depression.
Recently, I have been drawn to people who talk of happiness as a matter of attitude. People who have had their fair share of struggle, but have looked that struggle square in the face and said “Fuck you!” Their souls, whilst changed, have not been broken. It is a matter of attitude they say.
I read these blogs, books and articles in magazines and my heart breaks a little bit more.
I think, perhaps, I am beyond help.
My head hurts.
My heart is broken.
I stumble through my day wondering why we exist at all?
It hardly seems fair to be created with sentient awareness, but to have no true purpose.
I have been told that my purpose is to write. And it is true, I do feel it in my bones.
But I am ruled by fear. People afflicted with this hideous disease are ruled by fear.
That is the truth of depression.
Some hard wiring has gone astray and we live in a perpetual state of fear.
The voices in our head, that nasty little creature that revels in our misery, tells us, constantly, how it is all going to go wrong, how we will make a laughing stock of ourselves, how we are arrogant to believe that we could be talented in anything, how our lives, really, are just a waste of the space we inhabit, how we just need to die.
And so we sit. We wait. To die.
We don’t really want to die, of course. We just feel incapacitated. We feel isolated and we feel hopeless. And hopelessness is the killer.
I once watched an episode of Bones where the serial killer would brick women up into a room with no food nor water. He would stream video footage of their families to them and then he would watch them as they would scream. But no-one would come. And eventually they would lie down and wait for death, all hope lost. At the end of the episode, when he had been captured, he said that it was this hopelessness, so all encompassing that they would willingly lie down and wait to die, that he could induce in these women that gave him the thrill. Pretty awful really, but a very good mirror on the human condition.
We need hope to survive.
Survival is dependent on hope. Hope for a better future, hope that tomorrow will be better, hope that life will be okay in the end.
People who end their lives no longer have hope.
To have no hope is to be empty, to have nothing left.
To have no hope is to die.
I fight for hope. Every day I wake up and pray for hope. Depression and hope are interdependent.
It is not self pity. Many people think it is. Many people think it is a case of wallowing in our own misery. Which is why mental illness is still so badly stigmatised, why it is underfunded and why it is now touted that not 1 in 5 but 1 in 2 people will be afflicted with a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime, and only a fraction of those will seek help, and only a fraction of those again will receive the help that will set them on the path to recovery. That is to say, on a path that will enable them to see hope.
At this point in time I see no hope.
It’s horrible. Shocking even. I am a middle aged housewife living in a beautiful home with a beautiful family. I have no right to feel depressed. Or so they say.
But the reality is that I do have a right. I have a right, because it is my reality. It is a reality I wish didn’t exist. It is a reality that I suspect will be a part of who I am for the rest of my life. I will always struggle with finding the joy in a simple day, finding the happiness in a bird’s song. I will always struggle to ignore the voices in my head that tell me I am not good enough, a waste of space, not worthy of love.
It is reconciling that reality, marrying it to a life of less pain, more vitality, less anguish, more evenness, that is the key.
Today, I am losing the battle. But as of this day, I am winning the war, for I am alive.
A few years ago I was working for a telecommunications company as secretary to the Operations Manager. Part of my role was to organise all the paper work, computer logins and orientation for any new employee that joined the department. In this particular instance I was to arrange everything for a new customer service representative called Clare.
Monday arrived and the lovely Clare was sitting waiting in the foyer.
My phone rang, it was reception.
“The new lady is here.”
I walked downstairs and towards Clare, my hand outstretched ready to shake hers.
“Hi, Clare, I’m Sarah. I’ll be helping you to settle in today and you will meet with John later.”
“Anais,” Clare said.
“I’m sorry?” I said, not sure what she meant.
“My name is Anais.”
I looked at my paper work. Her ID badge clearly said “Clare”. I looked at her, confused. Had they employed someone else without telling me?
“I changed it, my name. By deed poll.”
I had no idea what to say.
“My parents chose my name, and I haven’t spoken to them in 10 years. I never really liked the name they chose. This job is a new start for me, so I thought ‘why not completely reinvent myself?’ and so I changed my name. I named myself Anais, after Anais Nin.”
She had also changed her surname to some equally exotic name – all traces of her old life erased. Well, on paper at least. I suspect a lot of what caused her to change her name would live with her for many years to come.
I nodded, admittedly dumbfounded, and took her upstairs. I listened to her repeat the story at least 10 times that day to various people who were expecting “Clare”.
I was named after my great-grandmother. My mother didn’t know her grandmother. She had died young, aged just 56, the year my mother was born, but a scandal surrounded her.
The story goes that she was a domestic servant in a manor house, almost certainly not as grand as Downton Abbey, but a manor house none the less. The family legend says that my grandmother came about as a result of a tryst between Sarah and the lord of the manor. So strong was this rumour, and the resulting shame she felt because of it, that my grandmother had all evidence of her birth cremated with her when she died.
There are no details of Sarah’s mother, only her father, Charles.
My mom grew up listening to stories about Sarah:
Sarah had to return to work. She had no alternative. It is not clear if she returned to the original manor house. My grandmother, as a consequence, was brought up in a convent, by nuns, until the age of 17. Up until the age of 5, she had been looked after her aunt and uncle, who by all accounts had not cared for her that well. My grandmother loved the convent, but saw Sarah very little.
My grandmother unsurprisingly became such a devout catholic that she was on course to become a nun herself when she met my grandfather. Sadly, the shame surrounding her birth never ever left her.
But my mother fell in love with Sarah.
There was never any question that I was going to be named after her.
I think my mom had this idea that Sarah had been manipulated, that the power the lord of the manor had over her had resulted in my grandmother, that Sarah would have been poor, alone and without means. It wasn’t an uncommon story of the time.
Somehow an injustice had taken place. And somehow Sarah’s memory was going to live on in me.
For the longest time I did not like my name. It was so plain. I couldn’t shorten it. I never got a nickname and god, I so wanted a nickname – a cool one like Tif or Kat or Shell. There was no term of endearment for me. I lamented how ordinary Sarah was. And when I met Clare-now-Anais I so desperately wanted an exotic name too.
Yet, as I got older, became more aware, I realised that Sarah, the person, ran in my veins. And I knew that I was her immortality. I have no idea what she was like as a person, but I do know she was a survivor. I know that she gave her daughter up to nuns who would care for her at a time when orphanages would have been the easy option. I know that Sarah would have had to pay for that care.
I know that through that care my grandmother turned into a woman who, despite years of struggles and ill health, was kind and good and was adored by her family. I know she gave birth to my mother who likewise was adored.
I know that my mother felt indignant at the shame the catholic church imposed on my grandmother, a shame that never left her, a shame that would reverberate for 60 years until my grandmother’s death, despite the catholic church excommunicating her because my grandfather left her for another woman.
And I know my mother instilled in me an incredibly strong sense of social justice, to question those in power constantly, to keep an eye out for the marginalised and disempowered, especially women.
I know that starting with Sarah a long line of strong women began, women who don’t give up, who persevere and who survive.
I know that as I stand here today, Sarah is a name of which I am very proud. It carries with it a life line, a heritage that, rather than shame, fills me with pride. It is the name that my mom uttered as she lay dying, calling out to my grandmother whom she could seen in her last few days. It is a name that has come to mean so much for over 120 years.
What is in a name? A new life, perhaps, like Clare? Or perhaps a vindicated link to an old one. What do you think?
How about you, do you like your name? Were you named after someone? Have you changed it?
Until next time,
It is inevitable. It comes to us all. But we don’t like to think about that.
Are we afraid? Afraid to tempt fate, to court the grim ripper for fear he may choose to come too early. Before we have had chance to live the life we want, the life we struggle for, the life that has eluded us. For surely the fear stems from a life not well lived, or a life incomplete somehow.
We just don’t talk about death and dying.
And we should.
We should talk about how we would like to die, even if when the time comes we don’t have that choice.
We should talk about how we would like to be buried, or cremated, or not.
We should talk about how we would like to be remembered, leave a legacy behind somehow of the essence of us, so that in death, our lives have some meaning.
I am reading a beautiful book called Lost & Found by Brooke Davis, an Australian author. The theme is death. And it is also about renewed life. But for me, the death part resonates. Millie, the central character, a 7 year old girl, is not allowed to talk about death, but she is acutely aware that things die. She does not know why death is a taboo subject. “It just is,” her father tells her.
My mom was diagnosed at that age of 61 with lung cancer. From the time of diagnosis to the time of her death took just 8 weeks. She did not want to die. She was not ready for death. She worried she would miss us too much. I would lie on her bed next to her and she would cradle me in her arms as my tears would fall on her pillow and she would say to me, “I am going to miss you so much.” She wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t ready. Four and a half years later, I am still not ready.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer she was afraid. She was afraid of how she would die. She was afraid, mostly, that she would suffocate to death and be aware of that suffocation. My dad, a devout Christian, caught in the ravaging grip of grief, couldn’t let her talk about her fears. He clung to the idea that God would save her. She was one of the good souls, he had said, and God would save her.
For the longest time she couldn’t express her fear. And so, I sent Dad on an errand on the same day the palliative nurse came to visit and gave mom the space she needed to face the inevitability of her death. To face the inevitable reality that for whatever reason her God wasn’t going to save her. She needed time to talk, to prepare.
“How will I die?” she had asked the nurse.
“Well, cancer robs your body of energy, so you will feel more and more tired. You will sleep more, and eventually, in my experience, you will slip into a coma like state and then slip away.”
“Will I be aware of dying?”
“In my experience, not really.”
“Will I be struggling for breath?”
“No. Your body shuts down, so your consciousness is shut down first. Only the very basic human functions will continue. Eventually, your breathing will just slow down until it stops.”
The relief on mom’s face, to know that it wasn’t a case of her breathing out and suddenly not being able to breath in again. She will be unaware, blissfully unaware.
A couple of days later we were in the car.
“I want “I am Woman” played at the funeral.”
We all jumped.
“And I want Sarah to sing Scarborough Fair and Amazing Grace.”
My poor dad looked at her mortified. We were on our way to her first radiation therapy session. The cancer had spread to her brain and they had to treat that before they could ever begin treatment on the inoperable tumour-infested lung.
“You can’t have Helen Reddy blasting at your funeral.” Dad said. Still so much in denial.
“If that’s what you want mom, then that is what you shall have,” I said, my heart breaking as I gave in to the inevitability of the fact that I would be organising her funeral.
“And no one is to wear black. Only bright colours are allowed.”
And so it was. My mother’s funeral arrangements were made in the car, on the way to the hospital. Thankfully, she found her voice. Thankfully, she managed to let us know how she wanted to be honoured on her passing.
The nurse was right, my mom did slip into a coma, just as she said mom would, and her breathing slowed and slowed until, at just after midnight on the 8th July, she took her last breath. It was a funny breath. A shallow sigh really. My dad had witnessed it before, in the passing of his own mother, so when mom took it, he said, “This is it girls.” We looked at him, confused. And then he said, “Mom, is gone.” And then we cried, we howled. But that is grief, and I will write about that another time.
This is about death and how we really need to be talking about it.
After my mom’s funeral at which “I am woman” was played whilst mom was precessed down the aisle, and whilst a slide show of her beautiful, brave life was shown; at which my sister and I both sang “Scarborough Fair” and “Amazing Grace”; and at which no-one wore black, people came up to us and said it was the best funeral they had ever been to. My mom would have LOVED that!
At the funeral tea, my aunt told me that she didn’t want to get buried in a cemetery, or have a church funeral. She said she wanted to be buried under a tree, whole, where her body can become one with the earth. I know that there are a number of humanist funeral directors that arrange this sort of thing.
Yesterday, I watched a movie called “With Honors” in which Joe Pesci plays a character that is dying. He writes his own eulogy, beautiful, moving. When he was writing his eulogy, he seeks advice from Brendon Fraser’s character. Brendon says, “Write about the things you did for which you are proud.” I think that is good advice.
I’m still formulating my plan. I have feared talking about death like everyone else, but I don’t want to fear it anymore. I want to embrace the inevitability of it. I want to be prepared for it and I want to prepare my family for it. Because I wasn’t prepared to lose my mom, I wasn’t prepared for her death. And I think if we talk about it more, then we don’t have to be afraid of it, and then we will be more prepared for it, and then maybe, just maybe, it won’t be scary or hurt quite so much.
Do you talk about death and dying? Are you afraid of it? Have you got a plan?
My word for this year is HEALTH. Whilst I intended this primarily to mean physical health, due to the fact that I had an awful physical time of it last year, I realise that health means good mental wellbeing too.
I have clinical depression. I try to ignore it, but like most things detrimental to our health, unless you deal with it, the black dog will not be silenced.
This past week has seen it rear its ugly head good and proper.
Partly, it’s hormonal. My PMS is shocking. I become suicidal and demented and I want to rip my eyes out. It is a type of manic darkness that is frightening, nay terrifying, and one I wouldn’t want to wish upon my worst enemy.
Partly, it is because I am tired. It was a long year last year, and whilst delightful, the long school holiday break has not been all that restful.
Mostly, though, it is because I haven’t really dealt with it. Not really. Not at the level I need to if I am to see any sustained recovery.
And so with my word HEALTH in hand, I decided to sign up for Rick Hanson’s The Foundation of Wellbeing course*. Rick Hanson for the uninitiated is a neuropsychologist who has written a number of books on happiness and wellbeing. The course itself consists of 12 pillars and it is recommended that each pillar be taken over a period of a month in order to assimilate and practice the skills learned.
The start of the program, January for me, is about self caring – the foundation upon which all else comes. It is about befriending yourself, being your own advocate, being your own cheer buddy, being there for yourself when times get tough.
I am so bad at this. I advocate for other people all the time, yet judge myself so harshly. Mr C will often lament that I take the best parts of everybody I meet, mash them together and try to be an amalgamation of all of the best bits of all of the people I ever meet. An impossibility of course.
The result is that I fail, time and again. It feeds my lack of self worth like a self perpetuating downward spiral. And because I am constantly scanning other people for their “good bits” and trying to apply them to my own life, I have lost my own sense of self. And that is a terrible thing to live with.
Have you seen those things that say “find your purpose”, and in it they say “what is your passion, for that is your purpose,” or “what is the one thing you would do if money was no object?” Do you have an answer ready? I don’t. I don’t have a bloody clue. I just stare blankly at the page, because I don’t seem to have a passion, a burning desire, or one thing that I would rather be doing. I’m too busy trying to assimilate traits that I feel would make me a better person, a more valued person, a less judged person, a person worthy of life and living.
And it is tiring. Oh my word, it is so tiring. Judging oneself so harshly takes effort. Enormous effort. And of course, because they are other peoples’ traits, it is almost impossible to make them my own. They are counterintuitive to who I am, yet I no longer have a clue as to “who I am” is anymore.
And so I become demented. Crazed. An internal inferno burning my mind, like a fuse lit at one end of my brain that rages through every neurone that exists until I feel an imminent explosion. It is at this point I can sympathise with those people who self harm, because it is in those moments that I feel the very same urge, though have never gone through with it.
Have you heard the story of the two wolves? I have heard a number of versions of the story, and forgive me if you have heard it, but it goes something like this. A boy asks his grandfather how he came to be so wise and so contented in life, how he always manages to see the good and lets the bad just pass on through. The grandfather looks at his grandson and says “My boy, there are with us at all times two wolves. One is full of hate and anger, one is full of love and peace. I just give the one full of love and peace more attention.”
At this point in time, I am aware that I am giving the wolf of depression, as I like to call him, way more attention. It consumes me, baring its teeth at me, orange eyes flashing wickedly at my soul. I love wolves, but I know too that they represent a shadow side to me that feels like it has control.
This is my year to wrestle back that control, to give the wolf of love and peace the attention it deserves and to find some respite for my mind that is so weary, so beaten, so broken.
Depression is such a horrible thing, so debilitating, more debilitating than most people imagine. But I can’t give up. I have to realise my quest of what peace of mind actually feels like, of what a life of meaning and purpose feels like, and until I find it, until I achieve it, I will not give up.
I hope you don’t give up either.
I have hope for the Rick Hanson programme. I like him and I certainly enjoyed my first session. It makes total sense to me. First be a friend to yourself. I can do that. Surely, I can do that.
Until next time,
* This is not a sponsored post at all.
When going on holiday I find that it is the little things that make all the difference, don’t you?
You know what I mean – the little extras that make your accommodation, and thus your trip, that much of a nicer place to be. Those things that make your life that much easier, and a true break for you and your family.
We have just come back from a lovely holiday to Daylesford.
When we book a holiday, we always book self catering and we always book something with airconditioning. Having a child on the spectrum means we have to think of these sorts of things.
But sometimes, things don’t go to plan.
We arrived at the booking agent to collect the keys to the villa we had booked. We decided to stay close to town so that when Master J, nearly 17 now, wanted to go on one of his walks – three every single day – we weren’t in an isolated region where my paranoia would wreak total and utter havoc. This came at a sizeable cost.
It was hot when we arrived, 38 degrees and climbing. I could not wait to get into our air-conditioned villa and later soak in the hot tub that wouldn’t be that hot because we would have turned off the heating element.
“Oh no, that villa isn’t air-conditioned,” the lovely lady sweetly told us.
“It definitely said it had air-conditioning,” I protested.
“No,” she said, looking at her computer screen, “it definitely says ceiling fans only.”
Having a child on the spectrum means that planning is of the utmost importance. A week of extreme temperatures were forecast, with fires raging through South Australia, the next state over, already. As I let the words sink in of a week of such temperatures and nothing more than two measly ceiling fans to cool us, I started to get agitated.
I grabbed my phone to download the listing on the accommodation website through which we had booked. I knew it would be futile. At this time of year we would be really lucky to find somewhere else. Being in the country meant very little reception and the website wouldn’t load.
“But we booked an air-conditioned villa,” I protested again.
“Don’t worry,” she said, again sweetly, “the ceiling fans have been on all day, and a lovely breeze will be blowing in there.”
Mr C squeezed my arm, which is his way of saying “please don’t make a scene.”
Once in the car, hot and extremely irate, I expressed the fact that we should have pressed the matter and demanded a place with an air conditioner.
“It will be fine,” he said.
We arrived at the villa and as soon as we opened the door a wall of heat greeted us. True to her word, the villa ceiling fans were indeed going like the clappers. But it didn’t matter, all they were doing was passing around 38 degree heat, that felt even hotter inside.
Master J felt it too.
“It’s stinking hot in here. And it’s so tiny.”
It was true. The photos on the online listing made it look so much bigger than it actually was. The bedrooms were large, but the living space was tiny indeed. It felt like we had been duped.
I managed to log on and get a copy of the features listed on the website. Sure enough, there it was – AIR CONDITIONING!
Mr C reminded me that we were booked during peak season, that we were tired, that finding a place during the high season with our list of requirements was going to be nigh on impossible and we were NOT driving back to Melbourne after demanding a refund we were highly unlikely to get.
After a couple of hours, I phoned the booking agent.
I didn’t even try to hide my irritation. “I’m sorry but the two ceiling fans are not going to cut it. We would never have booked this villa had we known that there was no air conditioning. Can you at least send over a couple of standing fans to create a bit of a cross breeze?”
We tried to open the windows as a breeze had started outside. Unfortunately there were no screens on the windows which meant that we were unable to open the windows if we wanted the inside to remain bug free.
A man arrived with the fans. By this time, we had also tried the TV which didn’t work, so he set about trying to fix that too.
As we unpacked the food for a family of three/four we realised with dismay that the fridge was little more than a bar fridge and that in this heat the majority of what we brought would not go in the fridge and would likely spoil.
As we continued throughout the house, we realised that whilst it “looked” well appointed, it was in fact miserably lacking; the ironing board didn’t work, the shower leaked, the potato peeler didn’t work, the sharp knife wasn’t sharp, there was no bread knife. In fact, despite appearances the entire accommodation made our stay far harder than it needed to be, especially for the money we paid.
I checked the listing again. They had changed it!
They had removed about half the features including the air conditioning. Luckily, though I don’t know why really, I had taken a screen shot of the before features listing and now had an after features listing shot as well as well.
I have no idea what to do with it mind you.
Customer service is so woefully lacking in this country. We whinge, we complain, but we have no teeth against the people that have our money and deliver far less than they promise.
We paid for Gold class tickets recently, and our host forgot to come and get us meaning we missed the start of the movie. When I wrote to complain, I received a letter thanking me for letting them know. Whilst I appreciated the letter of acknowledgement, what I rightfully expected was a refund since my experience was not Gold Class at all.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a rotating hair drier. Such was the force of the rotation that I ran the risk of it pulling the hair out of my wig. I returned the drier, but not after I was humiliatingly interrogated in a shop full of people, as to why I had bought it in the first place if I knew it was a rotating drier and had I used it because then they couldn’t resell it and thus refund me the money.
I had to return a pair of glasses for the third time as the optometrist had given me the wrong prescription. When I asked for a refund on lenses I no longer needed, I was accused of trying to garner a discount and that the reason I had been given the wrong prescription is that I had answered the questions incorrectly!! When I responded with removal of my business I was met with “Well, that’s your choice.”
And therein lies the problem. We are treated, as customers in this country, with disdain. We are treated as if everyone is wondering around trying to get something for nothing, as if we are stealing something by asking to get what we actually paid for when it wasn’t delivered.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
I grew up in South Africa. When I lived there, customer service was incredible. It was valued and highly regarded. It also garnered incredible customer loyalty, the lynch pin of any business.
Look at Apple. How many of us oo and ah at the service you receive in that store.
My friend recently collected a new Ford and despite it being a small entry level car, they made her feel like a million dollars. There was tea, cake, an unveiling of the car and a sign with her name on it. You can bet your bottom dollar she will buy Ford again.
Customer service is about creating an experience for your customer that they will never forget. It doesn’t cost a lot. But it lasts a long time. It creates life time loyalty. It is a worthy investment. Believe me.
We ended up having a lovely holiday despite our accommodation. I still feel cheated. The nightly rate was in no way reflective of what we actually received, plus there was false advertising which the booking agent then tried to cover up. It was dishonest and that soured the experience. I will never use them again. Ever.
Please know this:
If we buy something that is not “fit for purpose”, our statutory right says that we are allowed to return it within a period of time. If we pay for a service that does not deliver what we paid for, we are entitled to a refund. Please, please fight for your rights. Please keep pushing for better service. It will not change if we don’t push for change. We are not asking for anything to which we aren’t entitled. We are asking for the retail industry to stop, to stop not delivering what people have paid for.
How has your customer experience been lately? Has it changed recently do you think? And if so, why do you imagine that would be?
Have a super day,
Happy New Year Dear Diary,
2015 and another year of promise.
You know how ill I have been this past year. And you know that illness has gone so much deeper than skin deep. And you also know that I have been avoiding the inevitable, the obvious, the thing I must confront before I can even begin my journey back to mental health.
HEALTHY BODY, HEALTHY MIND
I haven’t wanted to face it. I haven’t wanted to take responsibility. I have been waiting for some divine intervention, some bolt of motivation to enter my body that would render me incapable of doing anything but answer the call of fitdom.
And so my body broke down. Again and again.
I am a slow learner it seems.
I will often imagine the time when I die and pass over to wherever it is my soul might go and I interrogate the people that handed out willpower and motivation and ask them why they didn’t dole out copious amounts to me. And I imagine imploring them as to why they not only decided to make me fat, but also bald and an alcoholic as well, like some cruel twist of sadism. I imagine them cowering at my anger, spewing out excuses promising never to do that to me again. I look at them, smugly, nodding my pleasure at my indignant voice and how they bowed to it. I feel vindicated, pompous, my job is done.
Except it isn’t done. I’m dead. I lived my entire life lamenting my weight, my hair, my inability to drink and a whole heap of other things besides. And in all likelihood because I failed to act, my demise has come early. I never did get to taste the sweet taste of health, vitality, peace of mind.
And that is the point. As far as we know for absolutely sure, we only have one life. We only have one crack to make it a good one. What a good one looks like is different for everyone and what looked good yesterday might not be good today, but without your health it doesn’t matter. Without health we have nothing. And when we have done being not healthy, we die. Often earlier than expected.
Nearly two years ago, I came across this youtube video. Two years. Despite all the evidence I ignored all the signs. I did not want to get up off my ass and do something.
But today, dear Diary, this the first day of the new year, I am making changes. My body is not liking it one bit. My body is yelling its displeasure at me, but I am overruling it. For today, I am overruling it.
For that is how I conquer my addiction to alcohol each day. I simply don’t drink for one day. Nor the next, or the next. One day at a time, I am taking my sobriety to five years in just a couple of weeks time.
I have to be able to replicate that for my body.
And so it is, my first step to HEALTH this year – Exercise.
Just writing it, my mind recoils. We have never enjoyed exercise, my mind and I. I have stark memories of coming last in every race, of never hitting the hockey ball for the entire match, of being selected for the netball team based on my height alone and being told to avoid the ball at all costs due to my inability to actually catch the thing, of being wonderfully at home in the water swimming, but never being fast enough for any team. My brain is screaming at me “why are you putting us through this!”
But this time, all I am doing is walking. I have invested in a Fitbit and all I am going to do is move my body every day. For the recommended 10,000 steps. I am told that this is about an hours worth of walking every day. I can do that. I absolutely can do that.
My brain, as you know, dear Diary, is telling me I can’t and I won’t lie the walk around the lake was tough. As Mr C and I walked, all I could think of was the jiggling belly and the chaffing underarm fat, and the sweating back fat. I kept imagining people looking out of their net curtained windows, in shock, some laughing, at this lily white obese woman walking past their door. But 7,000 steps later and I had made it home. Sweaty and slightly red in the cheek I grant you, but after my 30 minute walk I had made it two thirds of the way to my goal. I still have to walk the dogs tonight, so I am hopeful I can achieve it.
It’s so much more than just losing weight isn’t it Diary? People think that willpower alone would cure the obesity problem, but it won’t. It doesn’t. It requires facing your demons. It requires facing your fears and doing it anyway. And that is no mean feat. No one tells you that really. No one tells you the gut wrenching fear that grips you as you step out into the sunshine to take your first walk, or your first healthy food shop, or your first green smoothie (which taste surprisingly good, by the way). No one tells you that.
You see it, of course, on programs like The Biggest Loser, but until you experience it, you can’t know. Much like giving birth.
But today, I pushed through that fear. I did it. And tomorrow I may just do it again.
Until next time Diary,
Hello there my friends,
How are you this fine new year’s eve? The weather here in Melbourne is somewhat overcast and moody. Perhaps an indication of what my year was like.
I was doing some bloghopping recently and came across this lovely post by Maxabella Loves. She asks us to answer 10 questions to say farewell to 2014 and to ring in the new year. I thought it would be fun, and possibly helpful, to play along. I hope you will too.
1. What word do you think best summed up 2014?
I would have to say Challenging, especially since Mr C and I ended up in hospital no less than three times each! I also had to come to grips with being bald, and a new wig, which whilst an amazing gift, did present its challenges.
2. What did you do for the first time this year?
Two things: (a) I blogged about being bald, and took a photograph of myself bald for the entire world to see. (b) In response to Edenland’s call for lip-syncing entrants to honour the memory of her brother who had committed suicide, I decided to enter. At the last minute I decided to remove my wig. I then posted said entry onto you tube. I faced my vulnerability well and truly that day and is something of which I am quite proud. You can see the entry here.
3. What is the one thing that happened that will have a lasting consequence?
Undoubtedly it was the fact that I decided to do the Blog With Pip course. Through this course I learned to start and run my own blog, but more important than that was the connections that I made to some incredible women who continue to inspire me every day.
Before I started the course, I didn’t really follow blogs as such but now I read a number each day which has opened up my eyes to a whole new world.
I also learned to listen to my inner intuition more and to trust the process of living. As a recovering alcoholic this has been quite an amazing revelation, although still very much a work in progress.
4. Was there anything you wish you had done differently?
The one thing that truly stands out for me is that I did not take control of my health this year. Despite my body shutting down and needing two operations, I still didn’t heed the signs. The result is that I am still obese, am tired, am tired of being tired, feel very sluggish and am struggling to get out of my depressive spiral.
Losing weight isn’t just about the aesthetics for me, it is about my body not having to lug around 35 extra kilograms, it is about feeling vital, and not waking up every day feeling like I am wading through mud.
5. Do you have a favourite moment from this year? What made it special?
Hands down my favourite moment is when Master J came second in his Maths exam. The sheer sense of achievement he had brought an expansion to my heart that I have never felt before. For the first time in his life, he did not feel behind the 8-ball, he felt ahead of the game. It was a marvel to watch and a privilege to witness.
Autism has many deficits, but so many strengths do exist. Unfortunately, in our society, we have a habit of focussing on a person’s deficits instead of their strengths. We somehow have to make people feel diminutive. That day, my son stood tall, not diminutive at all, head held high knowing that his incredible hard-fought hard work had paid off. There is no greater joy.
6. What lesson has 2014 taught you about yourself? About others?
Such tricky questions! 2014 has taught me that no-one can tread my journey but me. For too long have I stood in the shadow of my own life watching it pass me by. By writing here in this little space I have learned to confront a lot of demons, let them go and to move forward. This has been a challenging experience, but also a gift. It has blown out a lot of cobwebs in the recess of my mind.
I have also learned that the same applies to others. I cannot tread their path for them. This has involved doing a lot of letting go – of control, of doing too much, of always saying yes, of not feeling good enough. It isn’t my responsibility to make my adult children’s life as easy as possible. It isn’t my responsibility to always do for others at the expense of my own peace of mind and health. They have their own journeys and they need to find their own way to live it. Just like I have had to learn to do with my own life.
2014 was a massive learning curve in this area of my life. It is still very much a work in progress, but I do believe that 2015 will provide more opportunities to practice and I will rise to the challenge well.
7. How will the lessons from this past year change the way you approach the new year?
For a start, I am taking more control of my health. It is my intention to focus on my health and my wellbeing at the cost of all else, if necessary. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, not for me. I am prone to being reclusive, to be mindless in what goes into my mouth. I have an addictive nature – I replaced alcohol with sugar – so I have another addiction to conquer this year. But I am determined I am going to do it.
I fear death. Not actually dying, for that is foolish – we all die, but the fear of dying before knowing what it feels like to live a fulfilled life, a life of purpose and meaning, a life of vitality and joy, a life with more peace of mind than not.
I have a plan to achieve this sense of wellbeing and over the coming weeks of 2015, I will reveal it.
8. What do you most want to do in 2015?
I want to regain my health which in turn will feed my sense of well being and peace of mind (and there is some really good science behind this too).
9. What do you most want to change about yourself? The world?
Kindness. I want to be more kind to myself by feeding my body nourishing food, by moving it more, by developing my mind. I want to be kinder to others and to the world, reducing my footprint on it. And I would love the world to become kinder to itself. If I could witness that in my lifetime, that would be incredible.
10. What one word do you hope will sum up what you hope to achieve in 2015?
For me, it has to be HEALTH. Without it I have nothing – no vitality, no peace of mind, no quality of life. This year has taught me that I need to take control of my health on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Health has to be all encompassing, or it isn’t health at all.
I cannot give to the world in the way that I want to if I do not have my health. I will be working very hard this year to achieve this.
So, there you have it. My 10 questions answered. It’s been a weird old year for sure, but one that continues to lay foundations for a better, more healthier me. Thank you Bron for the lovely questions which gave me some real food for thought and have helped me to clarify my journey for next year. No doubt there will be bumps along the way, but having this blue print will help.
Happy New Year everyone. May 2015 bring you health and peace.